Why Aren’t There More Non-Abstinence Programs?

Why Aren’t There More Non-Abstinence Programs?

The only thing worse than being an alcoholic is being a failure in recovery, and I was an epic failure. Feeling like the only thing I was good at was relapsing was so depressing that I considered suicide. That’s when I decided I was better off striving to be a functional alcoholic, but I wasn’t very good at that either.

It was a pretty miserable existence. So I decided to look into non-abstinence based addiction recovery programs.

Moderation Management

When I first heard about moderation management, it felt like an answer to a prayer. The theory is that you can achieve sobriety while you are still drinking. That sounded perfect for me. After all, I could go for long periods of time without drinking, but there were those days, really bad days, that I needed a drink. And with this program, I didn’t have to feel guilty anymore. The word relapse would no longer be in my vocabulary.

While accountability is emphasized in moderation management programs, it is done online, which didn’t exactly prompt me to be honest. An interactive calendar is available for you to report any drinking or drug use so that you are held accountable for it. My thoughts were, “I am doing better than I ever have before, but if I report my occasional drinking, I’ll be viewed as a failure”. So I didn’t follow through.

Smart Recovery

Absent of labels and shaming, SMART Recovery gives you the tools you need to make a full recovery without a commitment to a higher power. I never liked putting my life in someone’s hands that I never knew. At best, it felt incredibly awkward to me. SMART Recovery focuses on four key points:

  • Developing and sustaining a motivating factor
  • Controlling triggers
  • Managing urges
  • Creating a fuller life

After a few weeks, though, it seemed like a lot of work with no one to rely on.

Hams Program

The Harm reduction, Abstinence, Moderation Support (HAMS) program focuses on how you feel before, during, and after drinking. It was supposed to help me learn when to stop, but once I start, I simply don’t want to stop, so that method didn’t work out so well for me either.


It turns out that I am not the only one who’s had trouble committing to non-abstinence programs. In fact, many in the recovery community see these types of treatment programs as simply giving folks a reason to relapse.

  • Moderation practices have been known to run the risk of encouraging folks to drink much more.
  • Roughly 30 percent of alcoholics have ultimately moved into an abstinence program after failing at Moderation Management.
  • These programs offer false hope that you can stay sober without utilizing a support system.


There is a lot of potential for non-abstinence programs, but more research is sorely needed. As of now, there are too many variables involved in order to determine which type of program is most successful across the board. Once more information is available, there should be a greater opportunity for success.

As for me, I came to the conclusion that non-abstinence programs need a little more tweaking before I would find them to be effective. Being able to have the occasional drink has led me right back down the same path I’ve been down too many times before.. I, like so many others, have found that I simply can’t regulate myself or function well on the honor system.

Clearly, everyone is different and our paths to sobriety are going to be as individual as we are. The current lack of continuity creates a challenge for non-abstinence programs to perform well across the board.

If you or your loved one needs help, please contact Beginnings Treatment Centers today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors, we’re here to walk you through recovery.